Ben Shave of Supporters Direct reflects on how another supporters’ trust has successfully negotiated the choppy seas of administration and financial meltdown.
This month has seen another landmark for the supporters’ trust movement, with the Pompey Supporters Trust (PST) becoming majority owners of Portsmouth FC – the culmination of their mission to turn what was memorably dubbed “one of the most unhappy sagas in English football’s history of club ownership” by Guardian football journalist David Conn into “the biggest community club in Britain”.
The troubles heaped onto Pompey by a succession of unscrupulous owners still retain the power to shock, as illustrated by the continuing level of coverage the story has received. Quite apart from providing yet another example of how not to run a football club, the Portsmouth tale shows once again that when a crisis at a football club is at its height, the only people who can truly be relied upon are supporters.
The PST have persevered in their determination to put their club back in the hands of the local community. From their ongoing ”One Community, One Club” Community Shares scheme to Pompey’s 12th Man initiative, PST members and Portsmouth fans have raised finance, recruited people to the cause, and presented a realistic, viable, sustainable alternative to what had gone before.
Their efforts have paid off, but even before the PST formally took control it was clear that the drive to bring community ownership to Pompey had moved beyond the city itself. Supporters’ trusts from the UK and beyond have all given their backing to the PST, along with a host of other stakeholders – local businesses, politicians and even Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, who recently stated that “We are supportive of the position being taken by the Football League in relation to the Portsmouth Supporters Trust as long as it meets the legal and regulatory requirements of the process. We hope that it does, and that the process is concluded as quickly as is practical and to the long-term benefit of the club.”
Despite confirmation of relegation to League 2 on the pitch, the long-term benefit referred to by Scudamore is now a more realistic prospect than at any time in the past decade. We all know that football is about far more than what happens over the course of 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon – it is about identity, shared experiences, and creating sustainable institutions that exist for the good of the whole community, not simply for a few individuals.